Australian first study to alleviate pain for those with spinal cord injuries

Researchers from the Kolling Institute will partner with international and Australian experts to examine an innovative approach to nerve pain for those with spinal cord injuries.

The ground breaking study has been awarded more than $1.78 million through the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

Professors Ashley Craig, James Middleton and Paul Glare from the Kolling will join the study as chief investigators, with Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin from the University of NSW leading the trial.

Professor Craig said the study will investigate the effectiveness of an advanced interactive intervention to reduce nerve pain and improve function.

“We often regard loss of mobility as the most serious impact of a spinal cord injury, but we have found people with this injury consistently indicate nerve pain is their most difficult and debilitating challenge,” he said.

“We know that nerve pain affects up to 75 per cent of people with a spinal cord injury, and they describe the pain as burning, sharp, unbearable, unremitting and terrifying. Such pain is often linked with serious depression.

“Current treatments often involve the use of antidepressants, anti-epileptics and opioids, but these medications provide limited pain relief to around 30 per cent of people and have a host of adverse side-effects related to addiction and kidney failure.

“This means a large number of people with a spinal cord injury continue to experience debilitating pain with no access to effective treatment options.”

The five-year study will assess a new approach using an interactive gaming technology to reduce pain by helping to rectify the negative impact of the spinal cord injury on brain activity.

Spinal cord injuries generally reduce the frequency of brain activity, so this highly-specialised game has been designed to encourage high frequency activity and beneficial changes to the brain.

Professor Craig welcomed the opportunity to be involved in the promising, collaborative trial.

“Around 200 people a year suffer a spinal cord injury in NSW, and while that number may not seem large, these catastrophic injuries have a tremendous impact on individuals and their families,” he said.

“If we’re able to effectively reduce their nerve pain without major side effects, it’ll have an immeasurable impact on their health, their ability to work and function, and specifically their mental health as well.”

The trial will bring together researchers from the Kolling as well as the University of Sydney, University of NSW, University of Technology and the University of Washington.